Jewish World Review Dec. 3, 2003 / 8 Kislev, 5764


Keyboard trick can rein in that out-of-control Office scrolling; XP-compatible dictionary and thesaurus; "Safely Remove Hardware" icon disappeared from the Notification Area in taskbar

By James Coates

http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | (KRT) Q: I have a Sony laptop with Windows XP Home Edition, and when using Microsoft Office 2000 it is extremely difficult to select text. As I select text and move my cursor below or above the visible page, the selected text scrolls up or down at lightning speed. Within half a second I am all the way at the bottom or top of the document, when I only wanted to select a page and a half of text.

Is there a way to set the speed at which I scroll up or down? Note: I do not use a mouse, but use the notebook touch pad. I searched Windows and Word but cannot find any clues. I would appreciate any insight. A: Isn't technology just grand? Intel Corp. spends billions of dollars making computer chips faster, while Microsoft makes software that uses the ultrafast chips to do its stuff so fast that a user can't even see it.

Cursor speeds can be slowed or increased using the Windows Control Panel for the mouse, but that really isn't the best fix because slowing it down to fix your problem makes other actions too slow. Check it out by clicking on Start and Control Panel and then Mouse and finally Pointer Options, where you will find a slider for speed settings. Now read on for a better approach:

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This tendency of Word and other Office software to act like a NASCAR wannabe instead of scrolling text at readable speeds is best overcome by simply abandoning the mouse and using the keyboard for scrolling through relatively short blocks of text. This is particularly the case with laptops that employ essentially unwieldy methods, such as dragging a finger across a touch pad to move the cursor.

Like you, we newspaper writers, whose work rarely exceeds 20 paragraphs per article, don't often need Word's ability to scroll through hundreds of paragraphs rapidly. Most of us have learned to simply click the mouse cursor at the start of text to be selected and then hold down the shift key while moving the cursor with the arrow keys in the lower right of the keyboard.

In cases where lots of text must be covered, it is far better to hold down the shift key and tap the page-down or page-up keys to select larger chunks. If you want to select the whole thing in one fell swoop, turbocharged cursor-dragging works fine, but even here you will have better control by holding down shift and hitting the End or Home keys.

Q: My question involves how to get my new Windows XP computer to make a dictionary and thesaurus available throughout the workday.

Three years ago my wife bought me a World Book Millennium 2000 edition with a great dictionary and thesaurus that could be accessed on my old computer in a modestly sized window while running Word. But it doesn't work with the new machine. I was told this program does not work with Windows XP.

Do you know of anyone that offers an XP-compatible dictionary and thesaurus that I can purchase? Do you have any other suggestions?

A: After giving your problem a bunch of thought, I think a little trick known as Alt + Tab will let you get just about the same features you enjoyed before - no matter which of the many dictionary or thesaurus CD-ROM products you may want to use.

Here's the gist of it: When one holds down the Alt key and then the Tab key, Windows displays a list of all the programs running. By tapping Tab repeatedly, the display moves from program to program and lets you quickly open each and then Alt + Tab your way back to Word. With Alt + Tab it doesn't matter what dictionary and thesaurus software one purchases because all can be had.

Check it out by running that fine World Book encyclopedia and Word at the same time. Alt + Tab will let you move back and forth instantly.

That said, many of the current CD-ROM dictionary/thesaurus products, including the latest CD of the Merriam-Webster offering, contain modules that let one highlight a word in Microsoft software and summon a definition or list of synonyms. I found this XP-ready product for under $16 at the Barnes & Noble Web site, for example.

And let me say this: Microsoft Office 2003 includes Microsoft's own Encarta dictionary, ready to check any word you highlight and right-click. That same right-click summons "synonyms" that appear in a command-style box that lets you pick one for quick replacement. You might consider an upgrade.

And that said, let me say one last thing: In recent days, the ever-amazing Google Web site has added a dictionary to its many offerings. You just type in a command, like define happiness, and the search engine opens with a dictionary listing for that word and then a list of links to further pursue it.

Isn't it amazing how the rush toward computer-driven productivity has entered the fusty and laid-back world of scholarship, just as it has punching out widgets on an assembly line? Can you imagine James Joyce right-clicking through Ulysses to ferret out just the right word?

As Andy Grove, a co-founder of Intel, once (roughly) put it, "We aren't the ones forcing you to work yourself to death, but we do provide the tools you can use to do it."

Q; The icon labeled "Safely Remove Hardware" has disappeared from the Notification Area in my taskbar in the right-hand corner of the screen. I've checked several books on Windows XP with no success. Any suggestions?

This is a tad more complicated than it would seem, but the ultimate answer is finding a one-click command to activate the feature. But first, some background.

This icon does not appear unless one installs a so-called plug-and-play remote storage device such as a USB thumb drive for portable memory, a digital camera or a plug-in hard drive. Then the software for the device in question notifies the operating system to display that icon. When you precipitously yank out a removable device, the software behind this icon howls with a protest warning that such yanking is a serious no-no.

In reality, the Safely Remove Hardware service exists when Windows optimizes a gadget to run faster by first caching data sent to it into ultrafast system memory and then writing it to the slower hardware afterward. A yank during the cache-writing process contaminates the data and can mess up the removable card, requiring one to reformat.

If you have something plugged into USB or Firewire ports on the computer, the software can be set by right-clicking on the My Computer icon and then selecting the Hardware tab and then Device Manager.

Now look high up in the display for the Disk Drives heading. If you find a removable device there, give a right-click and then pick Properties and select the Policies tab. There you find check boxes to turn on and off the warning notification. Look for the tab to Restore Defaults and click it first to get the icon back.

As a pretty obvious caution, the little USB thumb drives and cameras don't require much caching, but if one has a large removable drive like an 80-gigabyte external USB or Firewire hard drive, a quick removal can be disastrous. Proceed with extreme caution if you have one of those.

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James Coates is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Let us know what you think of this column by clicking here.

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